Sat | Dec 5, 2020

The Tivoli Gardens community-development model

Published:Sunday | June 13, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Norman Manley
1968 TIVOLI GARDENS: The construction of housing units at Tivoli Gardens (formerly Back O'Wall) is entering the final phase, as seen in this photograph. The buildings on the extreme right are the blocks which have been occupied for sometime. All the other buildings are in varying degrees of construction. Beyond is the Railway Maintenance yard, Seprod and at the top the Jamaica Omnibus Services depot on Industrial Terrace. - File

Edward Seaga, Gleaner Writer

BECAUSE OF the public interest aroused recently concerning the community-development model in Tivoli Gardens, I am referencing here the appropriate section of my autobiography, Edward Seaga: My Life and Leadership (Chapter 9, pp 152-156).

The political constituency which I represented, Western Kingston, had the largest slum in Jamaica. About 1,500 persons resided there on 40 acres of land. It was called Back O'Wall.

On the occasion that Norman Manley visited Back O'Wall as premier, just after a vexatious clash in 1961 between residents and the police in the Coronation Market next to Back O'Wall, Hartley Neita, of the Government Public Relations Office, who accompanied him, best described the area in a published article: 'A slum is a smell':

"We walked from early morning until mid-afternoon through some four acres of squalor. Saw shacks, the walls of which were made of pieces of rotten wood and cardboard, crocus bags and covered with rusty sheets of zinc. The families slept on pieces of cardboard covered with scraps of cloth ... .There were no roads, just beaten tracks winding around each hut. Sometimes we stepped into swards of mud and the faeces of pigs and goats.

"... There was no grass or trees for shade or fruit. Every now and then we came upon a shrivelled gungo-peas plan ... . There was no piped water. They had a tapped water main along Spanish Town Road and carried water inside the community where they had constructed a makeshift shower ... . One man had built a latrine and he charged residents one penny to use it. The alternative was at the edge of the community, sandy soil where men and women scraped a shallow hole and squatted over it to drop their night food ... . The smell from the combination of the rotting wood, mud, sour water and faeces and scraps of cooked food waste was a nauseous, stomach-turning smell."

But it was more than a slum. It was also the most notorious criminal den of the country. Even the police were afraid to enter its environs.

Could not continue

There was absolutely no way this situation could be allowed to continue. For more than one reason, to create proper housing and to dispense the criminal elements, it had to be demolished for the development of proper accommodation.

In its place, I planned a community of 4,000 residents living in a variety of structures, some high-rise condominiums, other town-house-type complexes and some bungalows. There were seven parks and one large playing field for football. Other playing areas provided opportunities for smaller games such as basketball and netball. A huge community centre was built with rooms for training in art and craft, as well as music. It seated more than 1,000 persons.

On a nearby, separate, lot there was a 12-bed maternity centre for expectant mothers from a wide region, including areas surrounding the community. The national maternity hospital, Victoria Jubilee, was only one mile away but was both run-down and congested with two expectant mothers to a bed. This community maternity centre was manned by midwives. It would deal with regular deliveries only. The centre was adopted as a prototype by the World Bank and 10 centres were included in the Family Planning Programme for Jamaica financed by the World Bank.

After birth, infants were registered by working mothers at the creche in the complex for day care. Later, they attended the infant school in the same complex. I named it the Mother and Child Complex, the only one of its kind. There were comprehensive programmes of sports, culture and education for adults and youths.

Skills training was included for boys and girls in data entry, photography and repair of electronic equipment. Painting, sculpture, dance, drama and modelling, together with a steel band and bugle and drum corps, filled out the cultural programme

The project was to be financed in a unique manner. The housing units would be constructed by Government for rent and sale. That is the usual arrangement. The unusual aspect of financing was to seek private funding for the construction of the community centre and a Mother and Child Complex. This was made possible by donations from businesses in the area, which had done well over the years. The Chin Loy family contributed the basic school, which would bear its name, and George Fong Yee the nutrition centre for the complex. The Kiwanis Club of Kingston donated the maternity centre.

The community was named Tivoli Gardens in keeping with the name of a cinema at the same location. It was a unique concept of comprehensive urban-community development, which could become a model for other communities.

The need for this type of programme in the West Kingston setting was unquestionable. In the land-use plan established for the city of Kingston originally, the western area would be where the poor would live. This made sense as a convenience for visitors, or migrants from the rural areas the far greater majority of whom came from areas in the west of the island. Vendors attending he markets of the city would find them all in the west. Hence, there would be little need for criss-crossing the city. But the western end of Kingston was also designated as the location of the morgue, the abattoir, a large sewerage plant, the largest garbage dump, Dungle, and the biggest cemetery in the country, May Pen.

These were the services that dealt with all things that had no further use in life. The message to the poor who were the residents of the area was that living in slum conditions would be in keeping with the designation of the area as the rectum of the city. Hence, it did not matter that the kind of life and the slum dwellings of the people of the areas of Denham Town, Rose Town, Trench Town and others were compatible with the surrounding decay, because their lives were of little value. I decided that my mission was to change that, to reverse it because bad conditions are the perfect environment for bad behaviour.

I outlined my mission in an impromptu address, which I gave to the residents of Tivoli Gardens in 1971, to ensure that they understood what change was taking place and what would be expected of them:

"... The place where we sit and stand tonight was a rubble of tattoos and thatches and jungle. It is not that the houses were bad. Yes, they were bad in the sense that they were not substantial homes. But what was worse was the fact that the people in the community at that time were letting down the name of the larger area of people around them known as the community of Western Kingston. They gave this place a bad reputation.

"West Kingston was carved out in the whole city as being the place where everything would be dumped that had no further use in life. What we have tried to do, over the last 10 years, and I say 'we' because no one person is responsible, I am your representative but you are the people who have to work with me to do these things, to take the things that were not making any contribution to the betterment of the community, areas of waste like the Back O'Wall, and transform them from being the worst into being the best.

"If this part of the city has simply been rid of the slum that was there of the haven that it created for every known criminal in the city, of all the evil things that used to go on; if the area was only levelled so that the one could see from one end to the other, we could say that we would have done the area a good deed and that we would have done a proud job in making the community better.

"But we didn't just level it, we didn't just remove the stain that it was upon the community. What we did, in addition to that was to put something in its place. And what was put in its place?

"We have built here a community and a township which is a model for the entire island. But I want to tell you that what we have built here is a model which has meaning in many other parts of the world, has meaning in every big city, in many big countries where there are problems of strife within the city problems of the whole structure of the city being decayed. And what we have managed to do here in removing the garbage heaps, and replacing it with playing fields in eliminating the old tattoos and the ranches and put in bungalows and high-rise units in their place, in removing the tracks that had no beginning and no end, and putting highways in their place; in bringing light into an area that had no light, no water, and no sewage; in providing proper homes and decent homes, we have not only taken the man out of the slum but we have taken the slum out the man.

"This is a lesson that can well be learned elsewhere in the world, and it is for that reason, among others, that we seek to put down here a record of the transformation, a record of the transfiguration, a record of the massive change that has taken place so that it will be known to others as to how this little gem that has been created out of dust and ashes might be a gem that can hang on some other necklace around the neck of some other countries elsewhere in this world."

This comprehensive urban-community development programme was almost fully completed by 1972. It was widely acclaimed as a model which, as I said above, not only took the man out of the slum but the slum out of the man.

Next week, I will publish two selections, which will illustrate episodes that speak to the acclaimed success for the residents and the obstacle that prevented the model from being successful on a continuous basis.

Edward Seaga is a former prime minister and is currently a distinguished fellow at UWI.